The First Minutes

By on Jul 16, 2017 in Fiction

Red tunnel

Something is different; something is not right. Gone is the wonderful warm floating and the world is collapsing in on itself – in on me. Upside down, I feel gravity’s first insistent pull.

For the last few hours I have felt what should be called beforeshocks, each amplifying in intensity; constricting. The biggest yet grips, and with it this time I am squeezed downwards. I feel a presence at the heart of this, closing in on me, outreaching when the quaking occurs, but this quickly passes.

And then there is light below me, bright white and red. I can feel it course through the crown of my head.

The quakes are only minutes apart now; with each the light’s aperture grows wider. I see it through my closed eyelids and can’t tell which is the greater: the tightening of my world or the cincture of my fear.

An amazingly big quake pushes my head into the light. I panic, I want to fling out my arms and legs to halt this passage but they are pinned in my shrunken world. But then, as the tremors subside, I am sucked back into my red dimness.

An impossibly bigger quake and my head again leaves the confines of my world. This quake doesn’t abate, but redoubles, the sustained procession of seismic waves twisting me. The presence yearns for me, but again, when the constricting tremors cease I return inside.

After some time has passed, a line of light appears above me, which then widens to a pointed oval, and then another, closer, line, that also widens. The presence has found me, breached the membrane of my universe, drained the last atmosphere of my world, forced the citadel of my home, and I am grasped, twisted, and lifted from my world, never to return.

And this new dimension is terrifying. The light is all enveloping, piercing my eyes, introducing me to pain. I am able to blink away the sharpness gradually, but in the intervals when my eyes are open strange shapes emerge and delineate that I realize are not connected to me in any way, existing independent of me in new colors. In fact, I see no trace of the soft day pink or the ruddy night-black that were the sole colors of my world.

I am gripped around my neck and ankles by something firm and slippery and warm, but around the rest of my body is a great dry empty that is very cold – so cold that my skin contracts under it.

Worst of all, the greatest loss to me, is the constant sound. The soothing drum in the deep below my world I assumed would always be there for me is gone entirely. There were always occasional sounds: murmurs, bubbles – but though its rhythm changed the drum was unending. This would be rending enough to my ears, my heart, but in its place is a blaring din: a sharp frantic beeping, loud distinct voices, mechanical shovings of air. Something breaches my nostrils and mouth which sucks the thick protective fluid out, cold air stampedes down my throat, tingling spaces within me now empty, and in my mix of indignation at this robbery and my terror I myself create sound – the immediacy and surprise at this exclamation further frightens me, but the screech I am making seems to be happening independent of my will – expressive of my feeling, but each outburst of mine engendering a new terror which itself becomes involuntarily expressed.

Amid this, my last link to the old world is severed from me. Never again will I be tethered to another. I am now only myself, alone, forever.

I am lifted through the cold air and deposited a few feet away where, despite my thrashing and wailing entreaties, I am poked and prodded over the majority of my body, further dried with something (thankfully) soft and warm, and then bound up tightly in a warmer, softer something which, though it completely restricts the movements of my arms and legs, does calm me slightly. Though nothing will ever be able to replace the security I had in the fluid chamber of my lost world.

The light softens, (or am I already adjusting?) so that it doesn’t hurt any more, and I am able to keep my eyes open for several seconds at a time. The sounds lose their terrible newness and lighten; my crying diminishes in volume and frequency as I start to relax from the shock.

The wet remainder in my nose dries and I discover smell: acrid and antiseptic first. My tongue doesn’t dry completely, but still I discover taste, mostly the rubbery flat aftertaste of the plastic thing that had been plunged into my mouth, and occasionally a salty chemical tang on the air; could it be myself I am smelling?

A moment later, I am lifted by someone in a color I that has no red in it, carried across the cold, noisy space, and given to another similarly clothed. That someone holds me very unsteadily – I first feel shaky vibrations through me where I lay, and then I perceive a steady rise and fall; if I wasn’t so acutely perceptive of my new senses now I may not have noticed these slight fluctuations in the otherwise firm platform holding me. Looking at my holder, I am drawn for some reason to two circles of black, darker than the dark of night, ringed by a richer hue of that color that has no red in it, and surrounded in a color that is the absence of color around that in an oval.

Then I am placed on another who is laid out and enrobed as I am. Where I am placed is exceptionally soft and warm, and again I am drawn to the black circles, though these new ones have rings of brown between the black and white. They are so moist that excess fluid laps over the white part, down and out past the limits of my sight. The one that holds me smells initially briny, but altogether nice, and both have voices that they seem to be able to regulate, for their soft tones perpetuate soothing in contrast to mine. But beyond the calming talk, faintly through the ear laying against the brown-ringed one, is the familiar rhythm I thought I had lost forever. My plight then grows bearable, and without knowing why, I let all the new airy contents I have out of my body, pushing them through my mouth, and I make the first sound that is not a cry of loss. I am not alone, after all.



Josh Karaczewski often feels that he is the only writer living in San Leandro, but he looks forward to retiring somewhere warmer. His stories have been published in over a dozen literary journals and anthologies, a couple receiving Pushcart Prize nominations—though he has yet to win any carts. His books include the seriocomic novel Alexander Murphy’s Home for Wayward Celebrities, and the collection My Governor’s House and other stories. Until the riches pour in allowing him to write full time, he will continue forcing high school students to read, write, and think. Visit his blog,, for more information about him than you’d probably care to know.